Microsoft Only Expects Modest Surface Tablet Sales Through the End of 2012

Brad Chacos

Despite all the media interest (and in spite of all the OEM heartache) swirling around the Surface tablet, Microsoft doesn't expect the Windows 8 slate to give the iPad a serious run for its money, at least this year. At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference yesterday , company CEO Steve Ballmer said that rather than shooting for the moon and crashing and burning, Microsoft only expects to sell "a few million" Surface tablets in 2012.

By comparison, Apple shipped 11.8 million iPads in the last quarter alone . IPad sales just keep rolling and increasing on a quarterly basis.

Why the low estimate? There could be a few reasons. For one, it could be an honest assessment of a new tablet maker's odds of siphoning off some of those massive iPad sales, especially considering that Windows 8 and the Surface tablet aren't launching until late in the year and the slate is expected to carry a hefty price tag. Plus, setting up a component chain, manufacturing and solid distribution takes time, even for Microsoft.

Two, maybe disgruntled OEM partners like Acer founder Stan Shih are right. Perhaps Microsoft never planned on selling massive numbers of Surface tablets to begin with and is instead taking the bull by the horns to promote Windows 8 to consumers while simultaneously inspiring OEM partners to build better tablets.

However, Steve Ballmer just told CRN yesterday that, "Right now we are working real hard on the Surface. That’s the focus. That’s our core." He said that while promising to fight Apple tooth-and-nail in every possible market segment.

That opens the door for a third possible reason for the low estimate: maybe Microsoft's low-balling sales estimates just to get some of the OEM heat off of its back and convince Shih and crew to pipe down, already.

What do you think? Will the Surface tablet take off at launch, fizzle out completely or just wait until 2013 to get some solid momentum under its belt?

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